Question of Palestine home || Permalink || About UNISPAL || Search

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter

Source:
10 May 2007


General Assembly
GA/PAL/1051

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


EXPERTS AT AFRICAN MEETING WEIGH INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS
 

TO END ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
 
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


PRETORIA, 10 May -- An African meeting on Palestinian rights today weighed the shortcomings of past efforts to enhance the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, with experts highlighting the role of the United Nations in bringing about a peaceful settlement to the 40-year conflict, and urging support for the new Palestinian National Unity Government as a springboard for building bridges with the international community to push forward the peace process.

The expert panel leading this morning’s plenary session of a two-day United Nations meeting, sponsored by the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, examined the role of the diplomatic Quartet and the current international push to restart political dialogue, as well as the overall role of the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly.

Ahmed Maher, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, said that the international community -- particularly the United Nations, which had been created to open the door to a new world order -- should be ashamed of the horror and depravation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  All international efforts and initiatives had failed, and the history of 40 wasted years was the countless deaths and ongoing humiliation and degradation of the people living in the Palestinian Occupied Territory.  Literally hundreds of United Nations edicts and resolutions had gone unimplemented, he said.

The Quartet seemed to be exerting no effort to seriously address the concerns of either the Palestinian or Israeli side, and the international community seemed to want to choose the Palestinian leaders with which it wanted to negotiate, allowing Israel to hide behind the lie that it had no negotiating partner.  The solidarity that had been shown at the current meeting must become an active solidarity, particularly towards backing the revived Arab Peace Initiative.  It should also lead the Security Council to express support for that Initiative and seriously push for a fully respected ceasefire that included Israeli military activities inside the Territory.  All that should lead the wider United Nations to convene an international conference to create the framework for a negotiated settlement.

Henry Siegman, President, US/Middle East Project, Council on Foreign Relations, said that it was necessary to understand why so many initiatives had not only failed but had also left the Palestinian people worse off than the one before it.  The answer was that none of those measures repudiated an unstated Israeli assumption that the default position to peace was a continuation of the occupation.  What was needed now was not “another carefully calibrated plan to avoid the lie that underlined the present situation”.

What was needed, he said, was a clear international declaration, which emphasized that if a tangible agreement could not be reached on negotiated settlement, “the default position” would call for Israel to pull back to the pre-1967 border, which had been the basis of countless international agreements.  He said that another problem was a “failure of Israel’s moral imagination,” an inability of Israelis to picture themselves suffering the same fate the Palestinians were suffering and how they would have reacted.  And while he was not justifying Palestinian violence or any violent acts targeting civilians, he said it was important for Israelis to take a serious look at their past history “before they get up on their high horse”.

The bottom line was that there was no need for new peace plans.  Everyone knew what such a plan should look like, he said. The only real question was whether the Israeli people would put a Government in place that would pursue peace with the Palestinian side.  Failing that, perhaps the international community would finally “screw its courage” and demand an immediate withdrawal of Israel to the 1967 position.

South Africa’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dumisani Kumalo, said the fact that the question of Palestine was still so high on the United Nations agenda was itself some measure of the international community’s successful engagement in the issue.  The fact that that attention had yet to produce a State of Palestine did not necessarily spell failure.  As for the Security Council, he said that the United States, one of the powerful body’s permanent members, had very clearly stated that the issue of Palestine was a bilateral issue and should not be discussed in the United Nations.

Mr. Kumalo said that he had started asking “serious and difficult” questions about the work of the diplomatic Quartet, of which the United Nations was a member, along with the United States, Russian Federation and European Union.  All the United Nations Member States heard about the Quartet was that the group met from time to time behind closed doors in “fancy capitals”.  Member States were never consulted about the content of those meetings, nor were they allowed to give any instructions to the Secretary-General when he attended them.  He added, however, that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, had, for the first time, briefed the Security Council on a recent Quartet meeting.

Also participating in the panel were Sabri Saidam, former Minister of Telecommunications, Palestinian Authority; Ran Cohen, Member of the Knesset (Meretz-Yahad); and Ronald Kasrils, Minister of Intelligence Services of South Africa and former Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry.

This morning’s plenary was one of three such sessions, forming the core of the work of the United Nations African Meeting on the Question of Palestine.  The afternoon plenary will focus on African solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The meeting, which opened yesterday, aims to build on recent international and regional momentum to bring the Israeli and Palestinian sides back to the negotiating table.  It will also feature, tomorrow, a United Nations Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, to be held at the University of Pretoria.

Before the meeting began its discussion with experts on international efforts aimed at achieving a viable Israeli-Palestinian peace, delegations heard a brief statement from Ahmed Magari, on behalf of the League of Arab States, who thanked, on behalf of the League’s Secretary-General Amre Moussa, all of the meeting’s participants, particularly those from African nations working to ensure that the Palestinian people attained their self-determination.

In his personal capacity, he said that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a global one, but it was up to Israel to end its illegal practices, including construction of a separation barrier in Gaza and parts of the West Bank.  Still, the international community must intensify its efforts to support the Palestinian people and help put an end to their suffering.

Plenary II: International efforts to achieve a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace

Experts, delegations and other participants are expected to consider whether international engagement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had been a success or failure, examine the role of the diplomatic Quartet and discuss the current international push to restart political dialogue, as well as the overall role of the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly.

SABRI SAIDAM, former Minister of Telecommunications, Palestinian Authority, and the Executive Director of the Institute for Development Studies, introduced a video recounting the travails of the people of the tiny Palestinian town of Be’lin, who had been thrust into the international spotlight because of their sustained and vocal resistance to Israel’s construction of the separation wall in their neighbourhood.

He said that it appeared that the Palestinian and Israeli sides needed a third party to drive the peace process.  Palestinian people saw European assistance as “occasional” and United States efforts to be fleeting, except in the waning days of American presidencies.  They saw the United Nations playing a “relief” role, expanded somewhat when the Secretary-General took up his duties as a member of the Quartet.  After looking at the perceived roles of those major international players, he went on to describe the grim daily existence of most Palestinians, particularly those living in Gaza, 87 per cent of whom lived below the poverty line.  With those figures in mind, he said “serious” Palestinians had given up the hope of finding an “honest” broker, and international engagement was needed to promote dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian side.

RAN COHEN, Member of the Israeli Knesset (Meretz-Yahad), said that the current times were the worst for both the Israelis and Palestinians –- 40 years of occupation and near constant aggression had proved to be too much.  But he said there was hope, particularly since the Arab leaders had revived the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, and with the establishment of a Palestinian Unity Government –- even though he was troubled by Hamas’ continued stance on the non-recognition of Israel.  But, most importantly, polls were now showing that 70 per cent of everyday citizens on both sides were saying that they preferred the two-State solution to the conflict.  Backed by such broad support on the ground, negotiators on both sides, as well as in the wider international community, should seize the opportunity to revive peace talks.

Speaking frankly, he said that there were strong lobbies against a peaceful solution on both sides, and the mindset of the Israeli citizenry had been seriously influenced by the violence that erupted in the wake of the Intifada.  “People do not like to talk peace with those who kill civilians,” he said, stressing that the terror had had a “very negative” effect on Israelis’ perception of their Palestinian neighbours.  At the same time, he acknowledged that ordinary Israeli’s were not cognizant of the terrible conditions Palestinians faced under occupation.

But he said that he was certain that a new party would be elected in the next Israeli elections, and if the bombings and other attacks stopped, that new party could actually run – and win – on a platform that included a serious plank on the two-State solution, negotiated with President Abbas and other Palestinian leaders. He said that he would try hard to press the current and next Israeli Governments to open direct negotiations not only with the Palestinian side, but also with Syria and Lebanon.

HENRY SIEGMAN, President, US/Middle East Project, Council on Foreign Relations, and Research Professor, Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Programme, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, asked what was the “question” in the question of Palestine?  Certainly, the issue was not a dearth of regional and international initiatives, which ranged from the Oslo Accords, through President Bush’s “two-State vision” and a revival of the Arab Peace Initiative, and United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s “benchmark initiative”.

It was necessary then to understand why those initiatives had not only failed but why each had left the Palestinian people worse off than the one before it. The answer was that none of those measures repudiated an unstated Israeli assumption that the default position to peace was a continuation of the occupation. What was needed now was not “another carefully calibrated plan to avoid the lie that underlined the present situation.” What was needed was a clear international declaration, which emphasized that without a solid agreement on a date for a new negotiated settlement, “the default position” would shift back to the pre-1967 border, which had been the basis of countless international agreements. 

Another problem was a “failure of Israel’s moral imagination,” an inability of Israelis to picture themselves suffering the same fate the Palestinians were suffering and how they would have reacted, he said. And while he was not justifying Palestinian violence or any violent acts targeting civilians, he said it was important for Israelis to take a serious look at their past history “before they get up on their high horse.” So the bottom line was that there was no need for new peace plans. Everyone knew what such a plan should look like. The only real question was whether the Israeli people would put a Government in place that would pursue peace with the Palestinian side. Failing that, perhaps the international community would finally “screw its courage” and demand an immediate withdrawal of Israel to the 1967 position.

RONALD KASRILS, Minister of Intelligence Services of South Africa and former Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, who had just returned from Gaza, as well as Northern Ireland, said that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was seemingly intractable and that both sides seemed so far from the finish line.  The reason that was the case was chiefly a failure to analyze the United Nations original partition resolution which gave a small number of Israelis 56 per cent of the land, and gave –- without consultation of the Palestinians -- the people that had lived and worked on that land for hundreds of years, 44 per cent.

The process could not succeed without negotiations with whoever the Palestinians have chosen as their leader, he said.  If Israel was not satisfied with the Palestinian leadership, then, as the most powerful partner, it should take the lead, not with tanks and bulldozers but with compromise and honest dialogue.  What Israel should also know was that “oppression breeds resistance”.  He also called on the United Nations to play its role in ensuring a mass mobilization of Governments and civil society on behalf of Palestinian-Israeli peace, along the lines of the anti-Apartheid movement.

AHMED MAHER, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, said that the international community -- particularly the United Nations, which had been created to open the door to a new world order -- should be ashamed of the horror and depravation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  All international efforts and initiatives had failed, and the history of 40 wasted years was countless deaths and ongoing humiliation and degradation in the Palestinian Occupied Territory. Literally hundreds of United Nations edicts and resolutions had gone unimplemented.

The Quartet seemed to be exerting no effort to seriously address the concerns of either the Palestinian or Israeli side, he said, adding that the international community seemed to want to choose the Palestinian partners with which it wanted to negotiate, allowing Israel to hide behind the lie that it had no negotiating partner.  The solidarity that had been shown at the current meeting must become an active solidarity, particularly towards backing and supporting the revived Arab Peace Initiative. It should also lead the Security Council to express support for that Initiative and seriously push for full respect of a ceasefire that included Israeli military activities inside the Territory. All that should lead the wider United Nations to convene an international conference to create the framework for a negotiated settlement.

DUMISANI KUMALO, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations in New York, said the fact that the question of Palestine was still so high on the United Nations agenda was itself some measure of the international community’s successful engagement in the issue.  The fact that that vigorous attention had yet to produce a State of Palestine did not necessarily mean failure.  He recalled that President Mbeki had last year stressed that it was time for the United Nations to assume its rightful position as a representative of all nations, and address all the complex and interrelated issues surrounding the situation and peoples of the Middle East.  So South Africa would continue to fight in the General Assembly and the Security Council to keep the Palestinian issue on the agenda.

He said that he had started to ask serious and difficult questions about the work of the diplomatic Quartet, of which the United Nations was a member, along with the United States, Russian Federation and European Union.  But the truth was that all the United Nations Member States heard about the Quartet was that the group met from time to time behind closed doors in “fancy capitals.”  Member States were never consulted about the content of those meetings, nor were they allowed to give any instructions to the Secretary-General when he attended them.  Ambassador Kumalo added, however, that newly-elected Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, had, for the first time, briefed the Security Council on a recent Quartet meeting.

As for the Security Council, he said that the United States, one of the powerful body’s permanent members, had said very clearly that the issue of Palestine was a bilateral issue that should not be discussed in the United Nations.  There had been better success in the General Assembly and other United Nations forums, however.  Finally, he reiterated that the responsibility for the question of Palestine remained with the United Nations until the question was resolved in accordance with international law, and said that he would stand by that principle for as long as he held his post.

When the floor was opened for discussion, the representative of Morocco said his Government was making every effort to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.  That should be the only focus of the meeting.  The meeting should not touch on the situation in the Western Sahara, which was in the hands of the Secretary-General and other United Nations negotiators.

Another speaker said the international community shared a strong sense of justice regarding the Palestinian people.  The problem was that one powerful country was shielding Israel and allowing it to skirt its international obligations under the United Nations Charter.  He recalled that South Africa had been able to generate enough pressure within the United Nations, leading to the suspension of a white minority government.  He wondered what lessons South Africans had learned that could help the Palestinians in their struggle.  Could those experiences also help build a broad-based grassroots coalition against the occupation similar to the anti-Apartheid movement?

One speaker expressed grave concern that none of the panellists had paid much attention to the current situation on the ground, particularly the sense of desperation the Palestinian people felt and their fears that the newly formed National Unity Government would not hold.  She urged the meeting, particularly those participants affiliated with the United Nations, to back the new Government, end the embargo and drive the peace process.

Responding to comments, Mr. SAIDAM stressed the need for holding an international conference, in the form of a “people’s summit” on the end of the occupation.  Mr. KASRILS reiterated his call on the international community to recognize the National Unity Government and to lift the embargo.  He also highlighted some of the differences and similarities between Apartheid and occupation, and said that he believed that using the Apartheid analogy was a “powerful tool” to wake people up to the reality Palestinian people were facing.

Mr. Cohen encouraged the audience to urge their Governments, as members of the United Nations, to pressure Israel to enter into direct negotiations with Palestinian leaders, as well as with Syria and Lebanon.  Mr. SIEGMAN said that he believed the “default” position was implicit in relevant Security Council resolutions and urged civil society actors to organize grassroots campaigns to promote the idea.  He added that the Unity Government provided an excellent opportunity for Israel.  If Israel reached an agreement with a Unity Government that includes Hamas, he believed it would have much more legitimacy in the Arab world than if the Palestinian Government were Fatah-led.  Mr. MAHER said that it would be important to influence and use Israeli public opinion to affect change.  Mr. KUMALO said that the United Nations was changing –- incrementally, but changing nonetheless.  “Don’t be frustrated, things are changing,” he said.


* *** *

For information media • not an official record

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter